Black Developers Are Catalysts of Change in the City’s Reawakening

In the heart of Detroit, a city celebrated for its predominantly Black population, a powerful transformation is underway. It’s a narrative where Black developers, like the Bagley Development Group, play a pivotal role in reshaping Detroit’s identity.

Detroit, one of the Blackest cities in America, stands as a testament to Black excellence. Yet, the reality of excellence for many Detroiters, especially in downtown Detroit, has long been marred by exorbitant rent rates that even affordable housing can’t fully alleviate.

The Bagley Development Group has taken the challenge upon themselves to rewrite this narrative. Their mission transcends the restoration of historic landmarks; it’s about breathing new life into a city while preserving its soul.

In the heart of Detroit’s Grand Circus Park, the Bagley Development Group has embarked on a $75 million transformation of the historic United Artists Building, aptly rebranded as The Residences @ 150 Bagley. This monumental project offers 148 apartments, providing quality living spaces where one- and two-bedroom units are spacious and welcoming. However, their impact extends far beyond bricks and mortar.

“Several years ago, a group of us African American business folks got together and decided that we wanted to do something in our city,” said Emmett Moten, managing partner for the Bagley Development Group. “And we decided on wanting to do a real estate project and we were fortunate working out a leasing agreement with Olympia Development and the Ilitch’s for us to reposition 150 Bagley into a residential development and create 148 apartments with 20 percent of the units being deemed as affordable housing. That is incredible.”

Led by astute developers and businessmen, including Emmett Moten, Scott Allen, Larry Brinker Sr., Tom Goss, Richard Hosey, Roy Roberts, and Jim Thrower, the Bagley Development Group brings decades of experience in Detroit’s development landscape. They’ve not only preserved the city’s historic landmarks but also played a central role in Detroit’s resurgence.

In an era where urban landscapes are continually evolving, this fresh wave of Black developers is leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s major projects. They aren’t just investing their expertise and resources but are also channeling their commitment to inclusion, affordable housing, and diversity hiring into their multibillion-dollar endeavors.

For decades, monumental projects across the United States aimed at creating vibrant downtown neighborhoods often involved the transformation of disused assets, such as abandoned factories or former rail yards. However, in recent years, a new breed of projects has emerged, boasting a similar expansive vision but with leadership that truly reflects and resonates with the communities they aim to serve.

“To have eight Black business individuals in our city and be the leaders in this, in our project, and to think that I have been in the city since 1978 and we have never seen anything like this in my knowledge of development in the city not that African Americans haven’t done things, but this was a major effort,” Moten said. “Our mission was to get this done so other African Americans will see that this and say, ‘this is something we can do too.’”

This new generation of Black developers is driven by a belief in their unique perspectives and abilities to catalyze transformative change in American cities. They’re breaking the mold by prioritizing not just the bottom line but, more crucially, how their projects can directly benefit underserved communities. Their endeavors are rooted in a sense of responsibility, a recognition of the urgent need to address inequities, and a desire to create lasting positive impacts on the neighborhoods they touch.

These developers understand that true progress goes beyond erecting skyscrapers and glitzy developments. Instead, they are championing holistic urban regeneration, considering the long-term welfare of residents, affordable housing options, and the cultivation of diverse, thriving communities. Their approach is imbued with a profound sense of purpose, focusing on revitalization that uplifts all residents, irrespective of their backgrounds or economic status.

These developers are not merely building structures; they are crafting legacies that prioritize social and economic inclusion. Their vision is a beacon of hope for underserved communities, demonstrating that transformative change is not only attainable but also vital for the growth and prosperity of our cities.

The Residences @ 150 Bagley, set to open its doors in the first quarter of 2024, signifies more than the resurgence of a skyscraper; it marks the revival of hope and opportunity for a city that epitomizes black excellence. It’s a beacon of progress in a city once marred by vacant skyscrapers.

Contrarily, even within the vibrant city of Detroit, where resilience and innovation thrive, well-educated and prosperous Black individuals like Moten and his partners encounter unique challenges. When embarking on their transformative $75 million project, they faced adversities that were rooted in stereotypes and prejudices. Questions were posed as if to suggest that they weren’t fully capable of independently steering their ambitious venture. Despite being the driving force behind the project, Moten and his partners found themselves confronting skepticism that often accompanies their skin color rather than their proven expertise.

“It’s very difficult when you go the financial community and they ask, ‘where is your money coming from?’ you know that kind of thing, or ‘who is your developer?’ as if we, people who look like us, can’t pull a $75 million project off, but we were able to overcome that, but it wasn’t easy,” expressed Moten.

In response to these hurdles, Moten has made it his mission to pave the way for other Black professionals. He is actively engaging and hiring Black individuals as contractors, subcontractors, and in various roles throughout the project. By doing so, he not only defies stereotypes but also creates opportunities for others to overcome the barriers that he himself has faced, thereby contributing to the revitalization of Detroit in a more equitable and inclusive manner. “So, we selected who were going to be our contractors, African American contractors and 60 percent of African American subcontractors, so we have the ability to say we have the controlling point in who will partake in this project.”

The United Artists Building, dating back nearly a century, embodies Detroit’s duality – a city once thriving, then left to decay. For the last half-century, the building sat mostly vacant, a poignant reminder of what was and what could be again. Now, as it is reborn, Detroit sheds its identity as a city littered with vacant skyscrapers and becomes a symbol of urban renewal.

The Residences @ 150 Bagley is a chance for communities to thrive, for dreams to take root, and for a new Detroit dream to emerge.

As Black developers like the Bagley Development Group pave the way, the spirit of Detroit is reignited with promise and potential. Their dedication to the city’s revival and the preservation of its rich heritage transcends mere bricks and mortar and sets the stage for a new era in Detroit’s history.

Beyond The Residences @ 150 Bagley, the Bagley Development Group’s commitment to Detroit’s growth is evident in its past endeavors. The Fort Shelby Hotel, once on the brink of oblivion, now stands as a testament to their determination. The Farwell and Capitol Park buildings have been given new life, preserving Detroit’s architectural heritage.

Soon, their transformative touch will grace the Fisher Body 21 plant, adding another chapter to Detroit’s revival. The economic impact of these projects is undeniable, creating hundreds of constructions and permanent jobs, fueling the city’s job market and overall growth.

“I feel very good about this – to show the community that we can do this, and it can be done. From a real estate standpoint to stand alone on an island with a group of only African Americans doing this, I think this is a dynamic statement,” said Moten.

“During my career in Detroit back when I was working for Coleman Young, we had a lot of African Americans doing a lot of stuff in our city from construction, real estate, auto industry, architecture, engineering, public information, whatever you name it – Detroit was a mecca for that and I think that we are getting to that point again and I feel good about it, I am happy to be participating in this resurgence.”

In Detroit’s grand tapestry, Bagley Development Group emerges as a key thread, weaving together the past, present, and future. Their commitment to revitalizing historic landmarks isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about honoring Detroit’s roots while propelling it into the future.

The Bagley Development Group credited the breakthrough of these projects to the working relationships developed with HUD, the Detroit City Council, the Mayor’s Office, the Governor’s Office, the Downtown Development Authority -DEGC, and the entire supportive community that rallied behind their projects.

This endeavor would not have been possible without the unwavering encouragement and endorsement of their mission. Moten, speaking on behalf of their dedicated team, emphasized that it’s a family project deeply embedded in the very heart of their beloved city.

As Black developers continue to redefine Detroit’s skyline, the city’s narrative is evolving. The dichotomy between Detroit’s historical significance and its resurgence is increasingly blurred. This transformation isn’t just about reshaping the city’s physical landscape; it’s about reshaping the dreams and aspirations of its residents.

Detroit, the city that has always exemplified Black excellence, is reclaiming its identity as a beacon of hope and opportunity. The Bagley Development Group, among other Black developers, is at the forefront of this transformation, rekindling the spirit of Detroit and ensuring its place as a symbol of resilience, innovation, and inclusivity for generations to come.

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